The Postgres landscape has become very competitive in recent years as the database project has matured and grown exponentially in popularity. Since more and more users are deploying Postgres to support a wide variety of applications, there is a need for experts to help make sure those deployments are successful. This has led to the birth of a number of Postgres focused companies as well as existing companies either expanding or creating a Postgres practice. All in all, this growth of expertise is a good thing for the Postgres community. More people using it makes it a better product and when more companies are using it and hiring Postgres talent, many give back to the community thus making the original Postgres project stronger and better each year. That is one of the main benefits of open source, i.e joined forces working together for the betterment of the project. The other benefit is, of course, that is it 100% free to use.

However, there is a often misunderstood or, more accurately, misrepresented side of this story. Over the years, many folks have taken the hard work of the community and turned it into something they call ‘open source based’ solutions. There is nothing actually wrong with anyone doing this and there certainly isn’t anything that prevents this in the Postgres world. The issue at hand is how these solutions are represented. Many of these companies incorrectly market themselves as open source companies in an effort to ride the open source wave and take advantage of the market’s momentum. These so called ‘open source based’ solutions, to be perfectly clear, are not open source. They are proprietary solutions which means that in order to use them, you must pay someone for the right to use it. The issue here is not that someone is trying to build a business on their own solutions but rather how they cause confusion in the market. These companies often walk a fine line when discussing or marketing their solutions by saying ‘open source’ but when the marketing layers are peeled back, you find it is a proprietary product with the same traps as traditional commercial database solutions.

The reason this distinction is so important is that more and more companies/people are looking to get away from proprietary databases today to avoid the pain of being locked into any one technology, paying too much for a commodity and having to deal with vendors that will historically raise prices as they see fit. Using a true open source database means you are not tied to any one vendor, ever. You can choose to pay for support or services at any time you like but you have the freedom to stop paying whenever you want and still continue to use the open source database. With open source based solutions, they make it seem like you are free to do the same but if you decide to stop paying for the right to use, then you must de-install or risk being out of compliance and liable. That means you are forced into a migration effort.  Who wants to be in that situation?

The solution is to skip the open source based solution altogether. Yes, the move to a pure open source database from a proprietary solution may take a little longer and thus cost a bit more but it is a one time cost and the end result: being free of technology lock-in and being free of vendor lock-in have substantial long time benefits thus you will see a return on the investment relatively quickly. Even those open source based solutions that promise you a easier migration and quicker return on investment fail to point out that the migration may still take quite some time and be difficult(so much so that it is nearly the same effort to rewrite things).

There are also a bunch of options available to you to still get support for your open source databases and you don’t risk losing the type of quality support you are accustomed to getting from a proprietary vendor.  That substantially reduces the perceived risk of using open source databases. Industry experts such as Gartner have acknowledged that open source databases have matured to the point that they are viable alternatives to commercial databases and that in the coming years, large percentages of applications will either be developed or migrated to open source databases, not open source based databases.

The choice is ultimately yours but do yourself the favor and do the appropriate due diligence and make sure all paths and associated risks are clearly understood.